Excerpt from Highland Soul:
“Open the bluidy cell door and let us out,” shouted Gavin, his deep voice echoing off the cold, stone walls of the dungeon of Hermitage Castle. His long fingers wrapped around the rusty iron bars and he shook the locked door with angry fists. If his teeth hadn’t been clenched, he was sure they would have rattled in his head from the jolting movement.
“It’s no use, Gavin, give it up,” complained his good friend, Cam, sitting on the dirty floor with his back propped up against the wall. The dungeon was attached to catacombs that snaked around underground, with tunnels leading deep and far, and even all the way to the other side of the border. It was a nasty place, and feared by all.
Cam pulled his blond hair back into a queue, tying it with a leather band. Next, he pulled off one boot and rubbed his foot. Spotting a rat sneaking through the bars, he quickly hurled his boot at it. Missing the rat, the boot ended up hitting North instead.
“Och, what was that for, ye fool?” North rubbed his knee. “I’m no’ the one makin’ all the ruckus. Ye should have thrown it at Gavin instead.”
“Arrrrg!” bellowed Gavin, kicking at the locked door of the cell, and then cursing. “We’ve got to make noise if we’re ever goin’ to get out of here. We’ve been locked up for three days now. This is insane.”
“Ye heard Ian tell us that they are waitin’ for Storm to return.” Nash stood in the shadows. He used an object to clean under his nails. “By the way, I agree with Cam, Gavin. Ye’re makin’ so much noise ye’re goin’ to wake the dead.” He cleaned off the object against his green and purple plaid – the colors that depicted they were from the MacKeefe Clan.
“We’ve got to get out of here.” Gavin paced back and forth like a caged lion. “It’s just no’ right that we’ve been imprisoned in our own castle when we really didna do anythin’ wrong. We are heroes, no’ outcasts!”
“I agree,” remarked Cam from the floor. “However, we’re in here, and that crazy old man is out there, decidin’ our fates.”
Clan MacKeefe was from the Highlands. They had a camp in the Grampian Mountains near Oban. However, they also had holdings in the Lowlands, near the border. Years ago, they managed to secure Hermitage Castle, taking it back from the English. That’s where they were now.
“There’s nothin’ we can do about it until Storm returns,” continued Cam with a yawn, crossing his arms over his chest. “Ye ken we’ll rot here until Callum cools off.”
“Aye,” agreed North, rubbing a weary hand through his long brown hair. He and Nash looked very similar, but were not identical twins. They both had long brown hair, but Nash was a little shorter, and his face was more rounded than North’s. Nash’s eyes were also hazel, while North’s were silver. Their mannerisms were quite different as well. “I now regret drinkin’ so much of Old Callum’s Mountain Magic. If I had kent he was goin’ to shove his silly rules in our faces, I never would have done it.”
“Me, too,” agreed Nash. “But Callum has never done anythin’ like this before,” he pointed out. He continued to clean his nails.
“I think he’s been upset about somethin’ lately,” said North.
“He does seem more ornery than usual.” Cam nodded in agreement.
“I think our chieftain, Ian, is ailin’,” said Gavin. “He looked ill and in pain to me.”
“That would make sense,” said Nash with a nod. “Callum is worried about his son.”
Gavin stopped in his tracks and looked over at Nash, surveying what he was doing. “What’s that?” he asked.
“I said that would make sense.”
“Nay! I mean . . . what’s that in yer hand, Nash?” Gavin couldn’t believe his eyes. He hurried over to him and gripped Nash’s wrist, holding it up for the others to see. “I dinna believe it.” A dirk reflected in the dim glow from the light of the torch burning outside the cell. Gavin’s jaw ticked in aggravation and he tried not to explode. “Ye have a bluidy dirk,” he said through his teeth. “Ye’ve had it all along.”
“Aye,” Nash answered. “It’s the one I always hide in my boot. Ye ken that.”
“He has a dirk?” asked North from the front of the cell.
“Aye, he has a dirk,” Gavin repeated, his fingers gripping tighter around his friend’s wrist now. “Yet, he didna think to mention it to us three days ago.”
“What?” This news actually got Cam off his arse. He jumped up and headed over to them.
North watched from over by the door. “Brathair, we could have used yer blade to pick the lock and get the hell out of here by now. I canna believe they missed yer blade when they removed all of our weapons before throwin’ us in here.”
“Leave me alone. All of ye.” Nash pushed Gavin, and pulled his hand back, still clenching the small blade. “It doesna matter. We’re outcasts now with nowhere to go. If we had used it, we’d be on the run for the rest of our lives.” Nash bent over to replace the dirk in his boot. But before he could stand back up, Gavin tackled him and brought him to the ground, punching Nash in the face.
“Blethers, Gavin, ye’re goin’ to hurt my brathair.” North dove atop the pile, struggling with both of them. A sea of green and purple plaid got tangled around their legs as they rolled over and over in a heated struggle, fighting for the blade.
“Stop it,” said Cam, but of course they didn’t listen. So, Cam put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly to get their attention.
“What is it?” growled Gavin, looking over his shoulder, but continuing to fight. His long, black hair fell over his eyes. With a shake of his head, he flipped it back over his shoulder.
“Fightin’ isna goin’ to get us out of here,” stated Cam, not even getting excited. Sometimes, Cam was a little too calm and Gavin didn’t think it was normal for a Highlander to act this way. “I hate to say it, but Nash is right. That dirk is of no use to us in our situation.”
“Then mayhap I’ll use it to slit the fool’s throat instead,” shouted Gavin, his anger out of control now. Never would any of them intentionally hurt each other, but three days in the bowels of the castle with very little to eat or drink was making Gavin insane. His stomach growled, and his mouth was so dry that he could barely swallow. God, he needed whisky.
“Get up, all of ye,” a low voice split the air. They all turned their attention to the cell door, not even having heard anyone approach since they were so busy fighting each other.
“Storm!” cried Gavin, jumping to his feet. “We’re more than happy to see ye.”
“Finally. Get us out of here,” added North.
“Callum is playin’ silly games and yer da is goin’ along with it,” explained Cam.
Their other chieftain and laird, Storm MacKeefe, stood outside the cell with one of his guards. He, at one time, had long, bright blond hair, but through the years it had slowly started to show signs of gray. “Unlock it,” he commanded with a nod, and the guard did as ordered.
“Guid. Ye’re lettin’ us out.” Gavin was the first one to the door.
“No’ so fast.” Storm held up his palm and stepped into the cell, stopping in the doorway to keep any of them from exiting. “I ken ye four dinna feel ye deserve to be here and, honestly, I have to agree.”
“Then what’s the problem?” asked Cam anxiously. “Let us go.”
“I canna do that,” said Storm, pressing his lips together and shaking his head. He genuinely looked sorry.
“Why no’?” asked Nash. “Ye’re our laird as well as Ian. Besides, ye’re our friend.”
“I am, but I am also outvoted two to one by my da and grandda.”
“Callum isna our chieftain. He has naught to say in the matter.” Gavin was adamant about this.
“Actually, he does,” said Storm with a shrug of his shoulders. “Ye see, he is the decidin’ vote whenever my da and I disagree on somethin’.”
“This is crazy.” Nash slapped the wall. “This has never happened to any of our other clansmembers. Why us? Why now?”
“Leave us,” Storm said to the guard with a nod of his head. Once the guard left, Storm moved further into the cell to talk to them quietly so as not to be overheard. “I didna want anyone in the clan to hear this, but my da hasna been feelin’ well lately.”
“He’s no’?” asked North.
“I thought so. How bad is it?” asked Gavin.
Storm shook his head. “It’s no’ guid, I’m afraid to say. He’s seen several healers, and even the old gypsy, Zara, but none of them can seem to help him. He grows weaker every day, and some days it seems he forgets he is the leader of this clan. All he wants to do is sleep and rest. My mathair has been worryin’ so much that I’m afraid her health might be sufferin’ next.”
“Och, we had no idea,” said Nash. The moods of the men in the cell suddenly became sullen.
“I’ve made him a promise to keep things in order in case of his death,” Storm explained.
“Death?” gasped Nash. “Is Ian really dyin’?”
“We dinna ken,” Storm answered. “Ye see, no one can figure out exactly what is wrong with him. Anyway, I didna want to worry him further, so I agreed to do anythin’ I can to ease his mind and lift his spirits. My poor mathair tries to hide it from me, but she cries all the time.”
“So keepin’ Old Callum happy is the way to ensure some peace for Ian and Clarista both,” said Gavin, seeing where Storm was going with this.
“I’m sorry, boys. Just bear with it. I am doin’ everythin’ I can to help ye. I’ve had a talk with both my da and grandda. If ye each complete a mission of Callum’s choice, ye’ll be happily welcomed back into the clan.”
“Damn it, Storm,” spat Gavin, hitting the bars of the cell, making them rattle. “This isna fair and ye ken it.”
“They’re just makin’ an example out of us, and I dinna like it,” Cam agreed with Gavin.
“Please, just do it and dinna cause trouble,” said Storm. “It will be over soon. It will also be the best thing for ye, as well as for the rest of the clan,” explained Storm. “We dinna want to do anythin’ to upset my da further.”
“Ye mean Callum,” scoffed North, looking the other way.
“What is it we have to do?” asked Nash curiously.
“If Callum is decidin’ our fates, there is no doubt it will be somethin’ stupid,” spat Cam.
“Now, that’s no’ fair either,” said Storm with a scolding look.
“Sorry,” grumbled Cam. “I just want out of here.”
“We all do,” said Gavin. “Storm, can ye at least assure us that whatever Callum decides as our punishments, it willna be too . . . too humiliatin’?”
“Aye,” agreed Nash. “After all, everyone just started to see us as heroes.”
“Well, we wouldna want to ruin that reputation now, would we?” asked Storm with a chuckle. Storm MacKeefe was a legend throughout the land, and he was used to being a hero. Gavin wasn’t sure he understood how they felt. “I’ll do my best,” said Storm. “Now, let’s go up to the great hall where I will start the trial.”
“Trial?” Gavin’s head snapped up. “Ye canna be serious. We’re bein’ tried for spittin’ and drinkin’ too much whisky?”
“Aye. We didna commit any real crimes,” added Nash. “We didna even kill any of the MacGregors.”
“Dinna worry, I’ll take care of everythin’,” Storm assured them. “My da just wants all to go smoothly, so that is what we’ll do. Between ye and me, I think he just wants to instill fear into the rest of the clan. Then, once he’s gone – if he dies, no one will even think to cause trouble.”
“Do ye really think Ian is goin’ to die?” asked Nash once again.
“I hope no’,” Storm answered.
“Does anyone else think it’s odd that Ian is the one dyin’ when Callum should have been dead long ago?” Cam scratched at the stubble on his cheek and looked the other direction.
“Ye ken the old man is goin’ to live forever.” North added his thoughts to the conversation.
“Dinna forget, that is my grandda ye boys are talkin’ about,” Storm said, stopping their idle chatter.
“He’s right. Let’s go.” Gavin pushed past Storm and led the way out of the cell. “I just want this done and over with so I can get somethin’ to eat and drink.”